New investment boost for UK infrastructure research

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, pictured, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has announced a £1.2m boost for infrastructure research.

The UK’s ability to respond to the impacts of climate change, increased energy demands, new roads, housing and other infrastructure growth in its towns and cities has been boosted today (5.7.21) with a £1.2m investment in the Data & Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) facility.  

The funding was announced by Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). She said: “There is a continuous need for the UK to adapt to changing environments and plan for the infrastructure demands of the future. With major investment in infrastructure planned for the coming years it is crucial that we make the best possible decisions about how to meet the needs of communities across the UK. 

“DAFNI has a major role to play by providing the high quality data and analytical tools needed to design infrastructure that works with everyone and for everyone. It is a prime example of how transformative technologies can be harnessed to support an inclusive and sustainable knowledge economy.”

The funding has been granted as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Resource-Only Strategic Equipment (ROSE) fund. This phase of DAFNI’s evolution will be led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Scientific Computing Department.

Professor Jim Hall, chair of the DAFNI governance board, said: “Following four years of development, the DAFNI platform is now ready to deliver game-changing computational and data services to the community researching into infrastructure systems, allowing more complex and more detailed modelling to take place in universities across the UK, helping to inform government policy at local and national model, on areas from decisions on housing stock type and size to new road and transport links, flood defences and climate change mitigation measures.

“It allows researchers in fields such as transport, energy, population and flooding to more quickly and accurately analyse and research questions such as: how can we protect a city centre from river flooding, where should we site a new railway station, how can we better model climate and environmental impacts on our economy, society and infrastructure?”

DAFNI is a computational platform, purpose-built, hosted and managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in a partnership led by the University of Oxford, and funded for its development years by a grant from the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC).  

The new investment will enable DAFNI’s operational growth and provide the means to increase usage and capability to support research in EPSRC’s Engineering Programme and related fields. It also allows DAFNI to build on its commitment to changing and sustainable infrastructure needs for major projects including the UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment and the OpenCLIM climate impacts modelling framework. And it marks the beginning of a new phase of training and development for future generations of infrastructure engineers.

Dr Brian Matthews, STFC Scientific Computing Department and DAFNI lead for this next phase, said: “The DAFNI platform offers UK researchers a place to share their work and collaborate to study rich scenarios where changes in one area affect other areas. This might be the impact of climate change on the flooding in cities, or how new railways might affect where people live and work.  We are looking forward to the opportunity in this new grant, to expand the number of researchers who are able to use the platform in new and innovative ways, and to extend the functionality we can offer to those researchers. 

“We are particularly excited to work with students in Centres for Doctoral Training, enabling the digital expertise of the next generation of researchers in engineering and environment. Their skills will be vital so that the UK’s researchers can really address many of the UK’s challenges ahead such as Net Zero Carbon emissions and rebuilding the economy after Covid-19.”

DAFNI brings together disparate data sources, high performance computing, analytics and visualisations into a collaborative platform, allowing research to be carried out more quickly, with larger research scope than otherwise, for models developed by researchers to be built on by others, and enables online collaborations.

Communication of research impacts is essential and an important part of DAFNI is the visualisation function, helping researchers to share their findings in a more user-friendly way.

The ROSE grant from EPSRC will enable DAFNI to:

  • Increase its user base across current and additional universities across the UK;
  • Increase skills and develop the next generation of infrastructure engineers through Centres for Doctoral Training and other opportunities;
  • Underpin the development of a digital blueprint of the UK’s infrastructure services – e.g.: transport, water, energy, environment and digital communications;
  • Encourage multi-disciplinary research across infrastructure sectors and research areas;
  • Develop further partnerships in government and industry using the DAFNI platform.

Both STFC and EPSRC form part of UKRI, which aims to deliver an innovative and ambitious agenda of research and knowledge exchange.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email